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Govt Pledges Food Security During Outbreak Fears

Source: Vientiane Times

There are sufficient imported sources of consumer goods, especially staples, to maintain food security amid concerns of shortages in coming weeks of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, authorities have said.

Reports of goods shortages in some countries as the pandemic disrupted production and supply chains, coupled with the Lao government’s three-week-stay-at-home restriction measure (April 1-19) have escalated the concerns.

Reports also suggested that consumers in neighbouring Thailand – a primary source of imported goods including food for Laos – have stocked up on products like their Lao counterparts amid fears the outbreak could take some time to control.

Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce, Somchit Inthamith, speaking at a press conference recently, said he had learnt about the stockpiling by many consumers in Thailand where hundreds of people were reported infected.

But Laos also imported goods from neighbouring China and Vietnam, and that should balance local demand, he added.

“We will strive to supply essential goods and foods,” he said.

Rising demand in local markets due to stockpiling by households has caused some goods to skyrocket such as facemasks which have increased four or fivefold, forcing the government to intervene and sell the product at a subsidised price.

The prices of many food items were also reported to be increasing. A major importing firm informed the Ministry of Industry and Commerce that the higher cost of made-in-Thailand instant noodles, for instance, was due to limited imports of the product with demand in Thai markets also rising.

Mr Somchit said Chinese and Vietnamese instant noodles were an option to balance demand in Lao markets.

“We will try to balance demand to ensure sufficient supply,” he stated, adding that he believed the situation would not last long and ease eventually.

However, if the impact of the outbreak is prolonged, that could undermine food security. The government, therefore, told the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to work with the relevant sectors to promote local production.

Although the government has told people to stay at home for three weeks as part of measures to contain the outbreak, farmers are being encouraged to maintain agricultural production. Freight movements are also permitted during the current restrictions.